Last spring I started a photographic series over at the Nyack high school athletic field. I was inspired by three things, the first being metaphysics. The large open space conjured up images of pristine transcendent vistas sought out by the Hudson River School Painters in environs here and further north. Second, I’m drawn to the suburban landscape because I grew up as it moved in’€¦ the time seemed right to wax nostalgic about my athletic prowess, or more accurately’€¦ lack there of, played out on grade school and high school sports fields. The third reason is the color green and the color blue. I love the color green because I love grass and trees. I love the color blue because I love blue skies and white clouds above the color green and especially when a touch of red can be thrown in to break up those cool tones. I also love raking sunlight. I connect raking light to summer time, to growing up where green manicured lawns, high landscaped hedges and the dappled light provided by shade trees was a fair amount of the mix.
And so both my natural and subconscious inclination is toward the play of sunlight on landscape. Having said that, I can now impart that the most frustrating part of landscape photography is that I cannot control the changing scene, I can only go with the flow. Consistent with the great outdoors is that people move about, moving objects enter and exit the picture frame, clouds sift apart and dissipate, light intensifies or wanes and weather and seasons fast forward. I accept it and I work with it. Sometimes the results are so-so and sometimes they’re amazing. This will never change and that’s a good thing, but now at least there is one aspect to all this I can control and that is the final result!
Possibly the biggest problem with the old acetate ASA film speeds was that they lacked adequate exposure latitude especially when shooting conditions were less than optimum, which resulted in a loss of detail in the mid tone values. They were dropped out of the final result unless one did their own printing and knew how to compensate. It was especially noticeable in *dramatic lighting situations with extreme exposure latitudes, which is often the case in landscape photography. Another significant problem was color control. For those who used to rely on custom print shops to make our photographs look good, all too often our ‘€œcustom’€ pictures came back looking not so custom’€¦ they were too dark, too light, too muddy, too contrasty, too red, too blue, too yellow and on and on. Back in the day not having control over the end product, unless one was able to pay the higher prices, was a constant source of irritation. Even then, one had to shop around for a printer who shared your vision’€¦ and one who wasn’t too cranky!
Because digital cameras continue to operate in much the same way film did, Adobe and other software developers created digital editing software, which replicates custom print shops. For a very reasonable price I now have the ability to manipulate my images to achieve my original vision, the detail and tonal gradations I actually saw when I shot the scene! This makes it an exciting time to be involved with photography’€¦ again.
To achieve a more unified and enhanced color composition using Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop I’ve provided several ‘€œquick’€ measures anyone can do to achieve a more vibrant outdoor landscape. Using the tackle gear image as my example, the first step I took was to reset the original tonal values for black/dark, white/highlights and middle gray/mid tone value using the levels adjustment panel and the alt key. This punched up the image while assuring I now have true white and true black values. Using the selective color panel I then removed a small percentage of black from the overall image, as black can be rather pervasive. From there I readjusted the color balance. I can warm it up, cool it down or give it a nice yellow glow. In this instance I slightly shifted to cool blue tones for the sake of having a blue sky. I then removed the effects of smog just above the tree line simply by decreasing the percentage of yellow, black and magenta in the neutral tones which also removed those tints from the clouds, leaving them the most perfect white. I then made adjustments to the shadows and highlights first to decrease the highlight to shadow ratio, which brought up the mid tones. Then I played with the mid tone slider to accurately place the mid tone values, but relative to the overall scene. I then increased/decreased the S/L/H: saturation, luminosity and hue in individual colors by adding and subtracting red, green, blue, cyan, magenta and yellow separately until I achieved the results I was looking for. I experimented mostly with cyan and yellow to enliven the grass and trees, then blue to punch up the sky, then red to draw attention to the tackle gear and track field. Finally, I removed a bit more black from the reds and greens, which made the tackle gear, track and green field much more vibrant and lush.
Much of American landscape photography is commercially driven, but that’s not what I’m after. I’m after ‘€œme,’€ or rather stimuli that holds deeper meaning for me formally and intellectually. As mentioned, my natural inclination is toward sunlight on landscape. My intellectual inclination is toward the relationship between nature, man and man’s hand upon the land, however good, bad or indifferent it may be. It’s the reason I gravitate toward painters of light, landscape and/or the American scene including the Hudson River School and Edward Hopper, and the photography of Stephen Shore, William Eggleston Mitch Epstein, Walker Evans, et al, as they offer more to me about me and this American landscape than any other photographic genre. Their focus is transcendence, and so the end result can look and ‘€œfeel’€ cinematic. Their images are honest, plain spoken and uncontrived and seek nothing more than to record and tell the truth. They only seek a context relative to exposing the underlying reality of life for many Americans, the corrosive political and industrial forces we’re tied to and the enduring human spirit relative to the underlying fabric of life in spite of those other nasty realities. Although their images suggest a banal dispassion, don’t be fooled by that’€¦
*It’s best to aim for the mid tones in any type of photography, then bracket one stop over, one stop under to be certain, although I expose for the highlights a bit more because I want to retain definition in the clouds. It’s also worth stating that a graduated filter is useful in landscape photography.
See also: Postcard From New York on NyackNewsAndViews
Alison Perry owns a Nyack-based photography business that combines architecture, landscape and formal space and strives to make personal art about time and place. Imagery is for sale through her website. She received BFA in Studio Art from SUNY Purchase and a graduate degree in Library Science from Long Island University. Previously, she worked in journalistic and editorial photography for several different national/regional newspapers in NYC, PA and CA. See examples of her work at AlisonPerryArt.com